Simon Stephens

Accreditation needs a higher public profile

Simon Stephens, Issue 117/10, p4, 02.10.2016
As Accreditation turns 30, Arts Council England, the Welsh government and others revisit its relevance
There is no doubt that Accreditation, a set of nationally agreed standards for museums in the UK, is important to the sector, with more than 1,700 institutions part of the scheme. But, as it approaches its 30th anniversary, is it still fit for purpose?

This is the question being asked by a review of the scheme that was announced at the start of this year by its four partners: Arts Council England (ACE); the Welsh government, through its museums, archives and libraries division; Museums Galleries Scotland; and the Northern Ireland Museums Council.

The review was described at the time as “light-touch” and it will be interesting to see whether this really is the case. If the process genuinely involves listening to the sector’s concerns, and the feedback is that Accreditation needs a radical overhaul, then how will this fi t in with a light-touch review?

Having said that, a huge change to Accreditation is unlikely, as the sector is largely supportive of the scheme, meaning there is a lot of goodwill to build on.

Despite concerns about the level of paperwork, particularly among smaller museums, many in the sector value the rigour that Accreditation brings to their work and the opportunities it gives to assess the performance of their institution, while helping them to plan for the future. There is also the obvious benefit of the many funding opportunities that are open to museums once they are Accredited.

But for those museums with limited staff capacity, there still needs to be an incentive to stay with a scheme that imposes quite a large administrative burden on them. The rewards have to be proportionate to the effort involved in obtaining it.

One opportunity to boost the appeal of Accreditation could be to increase the profile of the scheme among museum audiences. ACE’s website says the scheme is designed to “inspire the confidence of the public”, but I wonder how many members of the public are aware that Accreditation even exists.

If it was better understood by the public, this could lead to some tangible benefits to Accredited museums in terms of increased visitor numbers and a greater value being placed on the work they do looking after collections and helping the public engage with them.

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